AVS Special Member
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Pittsburgh (East Liberty)
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You need to lock in your goals a bit more before you can decide what hardware to buy. You need some type of hardware at each television, whether its a PC, a Windows Media Center Extender, or some other digital media player.
There are fundamentally two things you'd like to do - have a whole home DVR, and a whole home movie library. These are separate because while one solution could be great for movies and video file playback, it will not be able to work as a DVR with Charter. Likewise great DVR hardware will not be able to play all the video files in common usage.
You have Charter, so if you decide to stick with them you need to know that their DRM is a bit restrictive. You can still do a whole home DVR, but your options on exactly how to do that is a bit more limited. You're locked into Windows Media Center as opposed to XBMC, JRiver, or Media Portal.
What does this mean? To allow your recordings to play all around your house you need Xbox 360s. You COULD use a PC at each location, but that will only allow you to play back recordings made on that specific computer. If your living room recorded an episode of Mad Men, your bedroom PC will give you an error message. This is eliminated by using Windows Media Center extenders. The 360 is most common one. The only other one in production is the Ceton Echo. I own a discontinued Linksys DMA2100 and it works great as a DVR extender.
Now, all those devices - 360, Echo, etc - make lousy movie file players. They cannot be configured to play all the same kinds of video files your PC can. They can play a decent number of file types, but you have to be willing to convert your media to a format that is compatible across the entire system. They also can't access services like Hulu and Amazon Prime. The 360 has some access to these services BUT you have to pay for Xbox Live (the online gaming subscription) to use them.
If I had Charter and really wanted to do what you're looking at I would consider a system like this:
-an HTPC similar to the one in the article for your main tv. I'd use slightly different hardware, but it would be basically similar.
-Linksys DMA2100 extenders from ebay for each other tvs They work great as a DVR companion.
-another device that handles online streaming and has better video file support. An inexpensive Roku could do this with some additional software called Plex running on the PC.